Tuesday, November 29, 2011

No Good Deed

I watched The Pianist yesterday. I finally understand why Polanski was so widely lauded for his film. The Pianist is haunting in its barefaced and undisguised telling of a survivor's story. The main character is not a hero. Jewish Wladyslaw Szpilman did not join the arms of his fellow Jews in the tragically valiant uprising against the Germans. He lucked out. He escaped, he hid, he ran, and most of all, he survived. The Pianist is therefore not romanticized; in fact, it is almost dispassionate. It is a story of one man's incredible ability to survive. It does not try to justify, and the portrayal of the discrimination and treatment of Jews is not overtly shocking or overly gruesome, and perhaps made more powerful in its subtlety. For example, there is no scene which shows the deaths caused by the gas chambers. Like in Amen where Gerstein's expressions are used to convey the horror of the gassings, in The Pianist, conversation is used.

Another moment in the film is when the German officer walks down the rows of Jews shooting them in their heads. When he comes to the last shivering and trembling old man, the gun runs out of bullets. That precise moment where he clicks the gun and it is empty is tremendous. Zoom in on the Jewish man's face. White in terror, but also, perhaps, a hint of hope? Then slowly, without increasing the pace of the music or movement, the German reloads his gun, and then shoots him. Its a brilliant cinematic feat. Awful, horrible, and so, so tragic it makes you so mixed up.

I'm supposed to be de-numbing myself from the effects of History Exams. I wrote this during the period of intensive studying.

"The fact that I can say 20-50 million people died during the Great Leap Forward without blinking an eye.

The fact that when I read that out of the 29 million Russians that died during the Second World War, 20 million were peasants, all I think about is what a great argument that will make.

The fact that when I say, in 1932, about 7 million Ukrainians died of starvation, the first thing that crosses my mind is that it is half of the total death toll of 14.5 million.

The fact that I don’t say “In cold blood, Stalin murdered and killed more than 1 million innocent people” and say instead- “To maintain power, Stalin used terror to eliminate his political opponents”.

The fact that when I see “Hitler murdered 11 million Jews”, I think- Hitler murdered about 5.7 million Jews, not 11 million. The rest were non-Jews.

The fact that they have become numbers to me- statistics, arguments.

The fact that I need to be de-numbed, and soon."

To be honest I cannot be sure watching The Pianist and war movies will help any. But at any rate, I think it makes me think. It makes me remember the dead, the sacrifices, and at the least, it reminds me of both the depths human morality can sink to, as well as the good we are capable of during most trying situations. 

On this thread of morality, Wicked is throughly thought provoking in that sense. It's marvelous how just one song can capture the dilemma that I face, the internal struggles that sometimes plague me. Why do I do good, really? Stephen Lawrence Schwartz is a genius. Hearing Menzel sing makes my hair stand on end. She can seriously hold a note for, forever. When she screams/sings FIYERO, I just can't. All the emotion makes me want to burst. 

"One question haunts and hurts, 
too much, too much to mention,
Was I really seeking good, or just seeking attention?

Is that all good deeds are, when looked at with ice cold eye
If thats all good deeds are, then maybe 
thats the reason why

No good deed goes unpunished."
- No Good Deed. Idina Menzel.

Sunday, November 27, 2011


Before IB ended, I promised myself that the moment I had finished my exams, I would devote my freshly freed up time to annoying my siblings. The result, I am proud to report, was two days of revelries around town with my brother and sister in tow.

Yesterday, I dragged my younger brother to town to watch Puss in Boots. I desperately wanted to see You Are The Apple of my Eye (and I still want to see it), and we discussed the possibility of passing my younger brother off as a 16-year old midget because the show is NC16, but he backed out because he claimed my "crying and yelling" about how "HE ALWAYS HAS TO DEAL WITH THIS KIND OF DISCRIMINATION. WHY. WHY. WHY?!?!?" would be too humilitating for him.

So we ended up seeing Puss In Boots- and it was, to put it plainly, bad. I sat in the cinema, thinking that the entire movie was vaguely dissatisfying. Think The Adventures of Jack Sparrow, but instead of a handsome, eccentric wacko as the main character, you have a cartoon cat who has childhood issues, minus all the dreadlocks, pirate slang and grittiness. I thought Puss was alot better as a fringe character, because as a main character, and although he was funny, he wasn't enough to work with as a primary character. I would have liked to see more fairy tale characters integrated, and a more intricate building up of their personalities.

But either way, my brother enjoyed himself. We both had Pasta-mania before the movie, and Marcus got really hot and bothered cause I wanted to know if they would change the number of the "We Have Served 1 4 8 7 9 9 8 6 Plates of Pasta" sign hanging outside the kitchen. The numbers are removable and changable, and I they could have won my eternal loyalty had they agreed to change the last number plate to "8" after my brother's cabonara and my aglio. But upon inquiry, I was told that "we never change it, it's for fun". I was desperately crushed, and my brother said I was being embarrassing again, although I cannot see why.

We had an hour and a half to kill before our movie, and so we traipsed down to Scape, where there was a massive Volunteer Day Exhibition going on. We were hopelessly lost because Scape is a very unnecessarily confusing place. Following the instructions on the awesome promotional balloons I had gotten from the volunteers along Orchard Road, we finally found the exhibition hidden below the flea-market, in some underground Scape area. It seemed like the only people around were middle-aged men with their families and school excursions, but we didn't much mind.

We went to have a look, and walked through a miniature little man-made forest while the guide expounded on the importance of preserving Singapore's biodiversity through Bio-Cameras, and Weed-plucking. We learnt about the Singapore Guide Dog Association, and how guide-dogs would immediately switch into professional-mode when their harness was put on. I loved how incredible it was that they were so similar to us. How we code-switch- when we wear formal suits and dresses we immediately straighten our backs, and try to remember with fork and knife to use for which course,   compared to when we are sloppy in our FBTs and baggy tees. I was really intrigued, and spent a good 15 minutes talking to the lady at the booth.

After the movie, we went to redeem some free food at the Volunteer Exhibition, where we got free Haagen Dazs Sticky Chocolate ice cream, curry puffs, and Gloria-Jeans coffee and ham and cheese sandwiches. FREE, completely free. It felt absolutely brilliant to eat free food- said JS who later joined us

"Don't you feel uncomfortable that we're the only ones here who seem to be without a purpose and just pigging out? Almost everyone is in uniform, or from some volunteer organisation."

And I said

So we ate and ate and later with our tummies all filled, managed to meet a Minister who was at the convention, and then I got to further embarrass Markie by swinging beads along Orchard Road. It's really alot easier than it looks, much like hula-hooping, except with a gigantic set of beads. Worst thing was, my jeans had slipped down a little during the bead-swinging, and that was really terrible because the old Bead-Swinging Man and me had gathered a rather huge audience. I asked my brother later what colour they were (my undies), and tragically, I had worn my purple undies that day. Of all the colours to wear :(

Then three of us got ourselves sugar rushes at Candilicious with Sour Tube Candy that cost 5 dollars, and when my brother and I walked through the door when we got home we crashed really bad. I felt like my mind was shutting down on me, closing the blinds, saying goddnight prematurely, and it went all dark and nice.

TODAY, I managed to convince both my sister and brother to come with me to the Toy Museum at Seah Street. It was hilarious to see their faces as we had to walk 5 levels of old toys, old Mickey Mouses which cost $35K, creepy looking dolls, tops, and marbles. You would think anyone would like to see colourful toys- but apparently not. They dragged their feet around like pieces of lead and complained about how ridiculous it all was.

Mei: Omg this is so gross. I am so creeped out right now. Like seriously. I am really, honestly creeped.

Jonny, added some fuel to the fire by adding:

"Yeah I think they told us to start from the 5th floor so as we slowly make our way down to 1st floor they prepare to kill us on the 1st level".

I have to admit the dim lighting, the glassy eyes and multiple clownish toys was rather creepy, but REALLY NOW, what about cultural capital and all that?

I rather enjoyed it, it was nice to see the development of toys from being distinctly national (Japanese toys were easily distinguishable from, say China-made toys before the 1960s). And then when it hit the Swinging Sixties, the toys became more and more homogenous. It was nice to imagine those 50 years ago, children playing with dolls and cars, monkey marching bands and marbles instead of Angry Birds and Wii. Touching things and using their imagination to amuse themselves instead of staring at screens which don't leave much room for creative thought.

All in all, I think, my weekend with my brother and sister was brilliant.
How I thank god that I have them. :D

"Nah nah nah nah nah nah nah 
I will not let you go"

Friday, November 25, 2011

Botanic Gardens
I like to think that little kids sometimes have the most important lessons to teach us. We often think we have lots to to impart to them, with our wealth of knowledge and experience, and we miss out on what they have to teach us. I reckon children are lots smarter than we give them credit for. They retain that wide-eyed curiosity that we lose with age, and it give them an edge over us.

Today Eu and I take her brother Eusebius to Botanic Gardens, and I learn lots from him. He's a brilliant kid, and I reckon he knows more about what art is than many of us do.

Here is his take on art, M&Ms, and picnic food.
"Art tastes like ham."

And it does! I would know; I tried it.

Botanic Gardens is beautiful. It's even more beautiful with a wonderful friend like Eu, a nice book, and a cute kid. Even though I spent an hour walking from the MRT end of Botanic Gardens to Swan Lake, and even though we had to make multiple trips to the Cool Room which, was, according to Eusebius, "super cool, get it?", and had to eat mushy M&Ms in ham, it was a wonderfully satisfying morning.

Quote of The Day:
"Okay then, you lead the way, smart girl."
- Eusebius

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

honestly, why can't I be honest?

I've always wanted to sit in a little outdoor cafe in Paris and and eat a warm and buttery croissant while watching the people go by with their coats sweeping out behind them in the chilly air, while reading a book- and have some cute foreign boy sit down opposite me and say "I like (insert author here) too". It's always been something I felt I had to do, just like riding a big red bike with little strings attached to the handlebars in a long ankle-length skirt while listening to She's Got You High by Mumm-Ra down the pebbly backstreets of a obscure German countrytown. (I blame The History Boys)

What I've come to realise, though, is that all these fantasies can be fulfilled in Singapore. I don't need a beautiful red bike with little strings down the ends of the handlebars like Francoise Hardy- my banged up, rusty, trusty old bike with incredible suspension will do just fine. Pebbly backstreets of a rustic countrytown is pretty, for sure, but perhaps pedaling furiously through Bishan Park, with the wind rushing past you, singing the "ooo ooo OOOH oo" part of Temper Trap's Fader really loudly while bobbing dangerously on your bike, and grinning at the annoyed joggers who give you irritated stares is brilliant enough.

I don't need an outdoor cafe in Paris, all I need is an outdoor Starbucks beside the Singapore River, with a gorgeous view of the MBS. I don't need buttery croissants, I need to try new things, like Big Bens and Bagels. I don't need a cute foreign boy to complement my taste in books, all I need is a good friend who already knows what I like to read. I don't need to watch well dressed people walk by in their boots and coats and hats, perspiring tourists with cute and fat children are even more amusing. And that is what I realised while studying with Gracie at One Fullerton yesterday.

Also, while reading Rei's blog, I felt this immense respect for him- he's so brutally honest, something I aspire to be. I think it takes a heckload of courage to speak your mind, something which I lack. Sometimes I think about my life and wonder if I'm merely existing. I'd hate that. I don't remember, but I read somewhere that making friends was easy, it was making enemies that took courage. In fact, most of the great men and women who stood by their convictions were persecuted for it, including one who died on the cross.

I'm much too- as Alan Bennett calls it "acquiescent". Basically, that means I'd rather please than be honest. It reminds me of this article in The Economist that said it was human nature to lie. The article claimed that lying- it keeps everyone happy, it keeps us from being depressed all the time, it keeps marriages intact, it keeps countries from war, it keeps families from falling apart, friends from turing into enemies. I don't subscribe to that. I believe that there's always a way to break something to someone without lying, tactfully, and kindly. EVEN the age-old "do I look fat in this dress".

"You look beautiful" would suffice. It's the truth- and even if she does look fat- she looks beautiful. Is that not more important? Anyway, when a woman asks something like that, she's probably not looking for the answer, she want to know you love her.

So I'm going to try to be most honest. With people, but mostly, with myself.

Friday, November 11, 2011


I've just finished my History Paper 3. When I took a thick, inky black marker to cross out 11 on my calendar stuck to my cork-board, I felt a strange thrill creep up on me making grin like a fool. 

I'm sitting, here at my desk, thinking that I haven't blogged in ages. I read up on blogging and journaling and I realised that I'm not the only one who finds blogging cathartic, a whole host of other people do too. I feel marginally comforted in this. It's not a waste of time, you detractor fools! It feels like I'm receiving a warm, crisp, cup of coffee from myself, and not the awful black coffee but heavenly hazelnut coffee or Nescafemocha.  

That said, I will attempt to blog more regularly. It's so nice to tap tap tap tap away at the keys and not think too much and let the words appear on the screen on whim. It's nice after a tough and stressful paper. It's nice after taking a nice long run and cycle. 

It's nice. It's 9:32 and I know this isn't the end- it isn't the end of my exams yet. I still have biology and business left, but it feels so wonderful to enter into this quasi-comatose state and see words words words floating around on my screen. I feel like a drunkard. 

I attribute it slightly to the lack of sleep for the past few weeks- but mostly to my exhausted brain. It's not that exhausted, but it thinks it is. It is an irritatingly lazy brain. I wonder if there is a way to shock it alive from its current state of inertia. I don't even know why I'm chuckling at "inertia" because it's not even that funny- I'm just going slightly crazy, I reckon.

I can do this forever, type nonsense at myself like I'm insane when I should really, really be reading up on Business and Biology. Mr Connor would say this is stream-of-consciousness. 

So I've finished my English, Maths and History papers, and it's been an absolute relief, like a big red ten tonne truck has been lifted off my back. I'm pretty certain a 45 is out of reach at this point- and I am hence aiming for a 42. Assuming I get 2 points for my EE and TOK and 6 for English and History, I'm praying awful hard that I'll manage a 7 for Biology and Business. 

Oh exams, exams. 
Go away. 

I wanna be a renegade.